Listen, no day is a “good” day for Donald Trump when it comes to media coverage.
At this point, the only rave reviews he gets come from Sean Hannity and the animate remains of Lou Dobbs, both of whom are apparently acting as “consultants” to the White House during the government shutdown. “In the days before his Oval Office address on Tuesday night, Trump leaned on a number of advisers on how to navigate the shutdown he’d waged over funding for his border wall [and] the list included immigration hardliners Fox News host Sean Hannity and Fox Business star Lou Dobbs”, The Daily Beast wrote, in a highly amusing postmortem of Trump’s rather unfortunate Oval Office address.
But if every day is a bad day when it comes to Trump and media coverage, Saturday was an absolute train wreck. America spent the day poring over a New York Times piece which revealed that in 2017, the FBI opened an investigation to determine if Trump was an actual Russian agent and then, later, the Washington Post detailed the lengths Trump has gone to in the course of hiding the details of his various conversations with Vladimir Putin.
According to multiple current and former officials, Trump actually seized “the notes of his own interpreter and instruct[ed] the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials.”
That occurred after the meeting in Hamburg and as the Post goes on to say, it’s part of a pattern, the end result of which is that, according to U.S. officials, “there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years.”
Strobe Talbott, a former deputy secretary of state who was involved in “more than a dozen” pow wows between Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin called the situation “outrageous.”
For its part, the White House branded the Post’s article “outrageously inaccurate”, without elaborating.
Trump, desperate, called into Fox’s Jeanine Pirro, the bombastic sycophant whose over-the-top rants are more comedy than “news” and who, you’re reminded, was rumored to have been pseudo-offered a top appointment in the administration at one point.
Predictably, the “interview” (if that’s what you want to call it) found Trump ranting at warp speed about everything under the sun. Generally speaking, all of his Fox News phone-ins end up sounding like what you’d get if you called up your coke head friend halfway through an eightball of blow at 2 in the morning.
Asked directly (if facetiously) by Pirro if he is or was acting as an agent of the Kremlin, Trump couldn’t manage to actually say “no”, which was remarkable. Rather, he said he was “insulted” and then proceeded to repeat his “lyin’ James” shtick.
Just to be clear, we’ve now reached a point where Fox News is asking the President of the United States if he’s a Russian spy, and somehow, the first word out of his mouth isn’t “no.”
On the contention that he’s concealing the details of his various conversations with Putin, Trump hilariously claimed that “anyone could have listened to that meeting” and that it (the meeting) is open for grabs.”
As you can see/hear, he also claimed he “couldn’t care less” if accounts of the meetings were made public and, predictably, he made fun of Jeff Bezos’ divorce proceedings, claiming that Jeff “has bigger problems than anybody right now”. That of course isn’t true because, well, because Jeff Bezos isn’t under investigation for colluding with a hostile foreign power, obstructing the investigation into that collusion and, assuming Mueller picked up where the FBI left off in 2017, for being a possible intelligence asset of the Kremlin. Trump also managed to squeeze in a few jabs at the Fed and tried to pump up the stock market – as if that’s relevant here.
Trump also took the wild step of attacking a private citizen on national television in the course of talking about Michael Cohen and the infamous taxi medallions. Have a listen to this.
“Trump [is] now urging prosecutors to investigate Michael Cohen’s father again [and] Jeanine asks for the name of the father in law”, an incredulous Maggie Haberman said during the interview, adding the obvious, which is that “this is a really stunning way for the president to target a private citizen.”
Finally, when asked if he would attempt to block the Mueller report from being made public, Trump resorted to another rambling diatribe.
Spoiler alert: that report will be made public one way or another, so the question is really immaterial. It’s just a matter of whether it’s made public as a matter of course or whether someone has to leak it.
Trump’s interview with Pirro raises at least as many questions as it answers, which isn’t a high bar to clear, because it answers exactly zero questions. The walls are closing in and the President clearly knows it. None of this matters to Pirro of course – it’s just ratings and nothing says “ratings” like “rantings”.
Meanwhile, a new ABC News-WaPo poll shows that 53% of Americans believe Trump and the GOP are responsible for the government shutdown, which became the longest in modern history this weekend.
Support for the wall has actually gone up over the past year. 42% say they support the lunatic idea to construct a barrier on the border, markedly higher than the 34% who supported the idea a year ago, a testament to the relative merits of fearmongering about “caravans” (which Trump also did during his interview with Pirro). Still, a slim majority of Americans oppose the idea at 54%, down sharply from 63% a year ago.
Ultimately, you’ve got to think this is all going to be too much for Trump at some point. He’s so far in over his head on multiple fronts that it’s a small miracle he hasn’t had a complete breakdown by now – that assumes you can’t call his tweets “breakdowns.”
I doubt if even Trump’s most ardent supporters believe he’s telling the truth about his links to the Kremlin at this point. In the same vein, it seems doubtful that support for his agenda (where it still exists) is rooted in a belief that the stories he’s telling (e.g., there’s an “invasion” on the border, our country is being “raped” and “robbed” by our traditional allies, etc.) are all 100% true.
Rather, it seems more likely that America has stumbled far enough down the road to autocracy that the fascination with rule-by-strongman has started to set in and that, combined with a willing suspension of disbelief (a prerequisite for buying into populism), is manifesting itself in support for a president who everyone knows is not running the country consistent with the way democracy is supposed to operate. And again, that’s kind of the point: America appears to be slowly acquiescing to autocratic rule.